Album Review: ‘Wonder’ by Shawn Mendes
December 7, 2020
Shawn Mendes was only 16 when he released his first album, “Handwritten.” Since then, his vocals and songwriting have improved immensely, and he has proven himself to be a serious artist who is passionate about his craft.
Now 22, Mendes has made a name for himself. He is revered by fans worldwide who have been eagerly awaiting his fourth studio album, “Wonder.” Expectations were high after he released “Intro” and “Wonder” in September and October. Though they are two of the best songs on the album, they seem to give off a false sense of what the rest of the album is supposed to sound like, leaving fans wondering what exactly Mendes was trying to do and if he’s still the same singer-songwriter that created “Shawn Mendes.”
In “Intro,” Mendes invites listeners to “get lost in wonderland” and proceeds with “Wonder,” which has listeners feeling inspired and invincible as Mendes sings powerfully and passionately about the inner workings of his mind.
“Higher” is very different from the preceding songs and has a bit of a needed edge that suggests that maybe this album won’t sound exactly how “Intro” and “Wonder” seemed to say it would. He then slows things down in “24 Hours,” where Mendes sings about wanting to buy a house with his partner (Camilla Cabello, who seems to be behind the inspiration for almost every song on this album).
Arguably the best song on the album is “Teach Me How to Love,” another edgy, energetic song with some 70s influence that Mendes describes as an outlier. Mendes continues to pull in listeners with “Call My Friends,” where Mendes sings about missing his friends while he’s touring the world, thinking, “I should call my friends and go get high.” It starts slow but eventually transitions into a more intense chorus with a heavy baseline. “Call My Friends” is something listeners can relate to in the crazy world of COVID-19, where we’re spending months away from friends and family.
“Dream” seems to be the only song on the album that sounds anything like how “Intro” and “Wonder” made us think the album would sound. Mendes takes listeners on a journey through a dream, starting with a piano scale and moving into a chorus of harmonies building upon one another, and then bringing listeners back down to reality.
Mendes wrote “Song For No One” years ago when he was hungover and wishing he was with Cabello. You can hear the hopelessness in his voice and his eerie guitar strumming, and as the song progresses, we enter a world of chimes and brass instruments, similar to “Hey Jude.”
Mendes brings on Justin Bieber in “Monster,” a catchy song about the two growing up in the music industry and questioning themselves as people. Mendes continues the catchy vibe in “305,” a fun song that doesn’t seem to offer anything else lyrically or musically.
Mendes had always had a big vision for “Always Been You,” and though you can appreciate his creative vision, the song’s execution is just okay. The chorus goes back and forth between a very light, dreamy delivery of “it’s always been you” and a vast orchestral piece, which seems to overpower his vocals.
“Piece of You” follows what seems to be Mendes’ formula for this entire album, which is a mellow introduction with a piano piece and then a synth and drum heaving second half.
“Look Up At the Stars” continues to follow this formula but is executed better than other songs. The pre-chorus is the highlight of this song, using a piano vamp similar to “Bennie and the Jets.” Mendes directly references “Intro” here, singing, “So let me spend the night in wonderland with you.”
“Can’t Imagine” is an acoustic track that sounds like it should have powerful lyrics, but instead, Mendes just repeats, “I can’t imagine what a world would be.”
This album has some solid tracks, but it doesn’t live up to fans’ expectations. Perhaps Mendes is merely growing up and changing his style a little bit, which is why we don’t see his famous guitar riffs or any lyrically deep songs. Which musical direction he’s heading in is unclear, indeed leaving fans in wonder.